I Used to Think

I used to be afraid to take time off.

Now I realize that the more frightening thing is what happens when I don’t.

I used to be afraid to dissent.

Then I watched RBG and learned the power of the dissenting voice.

I used to be afraid to say no to my kids.

Now I say no when I’m clear, and sit with my discomfort of displeasing them, in the name of something bigger, usually involving self-sufficiency and/or safety.

I used to be afraid everything would just crumble.

Then I found out that I could survive and keep going when it did.

I used to be afraid the work would dry up.

Now I practice coming back fully to the present moment and not letting my fear stories run amuck.

I used to think I should only share posts that were amazing.

Then I just started sharing writing as I wrote, without the amazing part.

I used to think other people were racist.

Now I know that racism lives in me, because I grew up in America with white skin.

I used to think I wanted to have a sexual experience with a woman. You know, just once.

Then I realized I was one million percent gay and my whole life flashed before my eyes like in a movie, and all the longing and searching made sense.

I used to look at what other people were doing enviously, achingly.

Then I started learning about the insides of other people’s lives, and saw that the grass is never actually greener once you get up close to it. It’s all just grass.

I used to be good.

I used to be nice.

I used to be a kid who loved eating.

Then I stopped eating. Then I learned to love eating again.

I used to be afraid of taking up room.

Now I see that that shrinking and narcissism live on the same spectrum, and I don’t wish to inhabit either extreme.

I used to believe you had to have a degree or certification in something in order for it to be legitimate.

Then I hung my first shingle and not a single person asked me about my credentials.

I used to need everyone to like me.

Now that is not a priority, though I still struggle with it sometimes and worry about being enough.

I used to think I had to be endlessly positive and bright in order to be my “best.”

Then I learned that the people who love me love me even when I’m feeling depressed, lost, doubtful, angry, confused, or sad.

I used to be a lot of things.

Now I am also a lot of things.

I could not be this me without having moved through every single one of those moments.

Nothing is wasted.

Everything counts.

We’re here to grow.

Work for the Long Haul

In a recent interview in the magazine gal-dem, Roxane Gay’s comments about cancel culture, a phrase I just learned from my daughter last night, are critical to a national conversation we desperately need to be having with ourselves and each other.

This conversation is not easy or simple or quick. It requires nuance, patience, and commitment — all skills eroded by a cultural moment that lends itself to reactivity and the hot topic du jour.

Related to this, in my mind, is something Leesa Renee Hall​ wrote recently about why “becoming an anti-racist is a lousy new year’s resolution.” Read that here, and join Leesa’s Patreon community for writing prompts and deep work around uncovering and addressing your unconscious bias.

This is all work for the long haul.

For the past month or so, probably since around the time Freedom School with Desiree Lynn Adaway​* ended in December, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own part in this movement. Truth be told, my thoughts have drifted to wondering whether anything I’ve done has made any difference. And each time I start indulging this self-referential reverie, I have the same wake-up call moment: IT IS NOT ABOUT ME.

Every single time I have thoughts like, “what am I really doing, anyway? Is anything I’m doing making a difference?” is an opportunity to peel away another onion-skin layer of internalized white supremacy.

This in of an itself is a significant aspect of addressing the ways in which whiteness is in me, whether I want it to be or not.

Centering myself, questioning the work if I can’t see the immediate “results,” as if anti-racism and social justice work is akin to going to the gym and expecting to see greater muscle definition after a few workouts.

For many well-intentioned white feminists, letting go of the need for evidence that we are “making a difference” is a humbling and crucial step on the long, decidedly not sexy road of becoming better allies.

We have to be more devoted to continuing to show up, listen, learn, and put our own agendas aside than we are in getting credit for our efforts, feeling good about our “impact” on the very individuals and communities we claim to be invested in yet unconsciously place ourselves above and apart from. This is what I mean by nuance.

We have to keep expecting more of ourselves. This means questioning our questions, and, more importantly, stepping out of the “I” mentality that keeps our focus inward rather than on the real stakes: People’s lives and systems designed to denigrate and destroy individual dignity and entire communities.

This is work for the long haul.

* There is still time to sign up for 2019 Freedom School, which begins at the end of January.

On Having Your Shit Together

Having shit figured out is a red herring, a mirage on the horizon in our peripheral vision that keeps us questioning what we’re seeing.

It’s not over there. There is not there, there. The whole idea of a person having their shit together makes it sound like life is this neat and tidy thing you can sort into static categories of fixed states.

What would that even look like?

Our shit is constantly changing.

And yet, there is some shit that really matters to you, right? Those are your values. Your priorities. I think the clearer we get about that stuff, the more we can roll with external changes, and the more those external changes can feel aligned with who we are and what we know to be true in the midst of so much uncertainty.

But this notion of having our shit together? It’s a sales tactic.

For the past five years, I’ve paid self-employment taxes on a quarterly and annual basis. Does that mean I have my shit together? Our government certainly doesn’t have its shit together.

I love being organized and on top of things, and in many ways I am these things. And there is also so much shit I don’t get to. A to do list that snakes from one day to the next. Does this mean I don’t have my shit together? No. It means I am alive.

May I never complete my to do list, not before my last breath. And even then, I’ll exist in some new form, beyond shit and no shit, beyond waking and dreaming and sleeping and thinking and creating.

What is beyond?

How did I get from figuring shit out to existential questions before morning light?

The thing with end times is that they aren’t really the end. What will come after this moment of chaos and crumbling?

Last night, I had a beautiful moment with Mani. This weekend is the seventh anniversary of the weekend we met in real life for the first time. It was my 38th birthday when we had the one-night stand that would become the rest of our lives — many of you know that story already.

I looked into her eyes and had this vivid image of God sitting around and suddenly jumping up with a great idea, a light bulb moment about us finding each other. (As an aside: Does God say, “Oh my God”?) “Why didn’t I think of this sooner?!” God asked godself in my imagination. In God time, that was just a few minutes ago. Life is long and short and bound and timeless. If “God” is not your language, substitute “Dog” or your deity of choice. The Universe will also do nicely.

Anyway, we first connected via email in a moment of flux — spring, 2009. Ten years ago! Imagine several rivers swirling and eddying, where it can be impossible to discern which is which in the confluence. Kind of like that. I was married with littles, with a coaching business and a sunny home office and a sweet house on a dead-end street in Burlington, Vermont.

My life was completely settled. She was in Phoenix, and something I’d written catalyzed a decision that would blow the doors off of her life. Little did either of us know that two years after that first word exchange, we’d wake up in each other’s arms.

You might think you have your shit together.

If you sweep your shit under the proverbial rug and the rug gets pulled out from under you, guess what you will have to sweep up? ALL THE SHIT YOU AVOIDED.

If you don’t have your shit together, welcome to being human and guess what, this doesn’t not mean you are a fuck up. Sheesh. Who instilled that idea in us, anyway? It’s toxic and false.

Where am I going with this? I need a second cup of coffee. It’s early. Today is my last day of being 44 so I’m taking stock, my friends. The hardest and most terrifying moments of my life are inseparable from everything I call a blessing today. Shit comes together and shit falls apart.

The best we can do is stay close to the ground, talk to the sky, the mountains, or wherever it is your help comes from. God isn’t a white dude in the clouds wearing a robe and mansplaining your life purpose.

No, God is in you. I see it in your eyes. I see it in mine.

Baby Steps Towards a Book

Will I ever write a book?

I don’t know.

The question is never not with me, a double negative if ever there was one.

I live with it, or rather, it lives with me. It comes with me to the bathroom to pee and brush my teeth in the morning. It comes along to the grocery store, the gym, the synagogue, the bookstore. Oh, yes, especially the bookstore. It sleeps naked in my dreams and gives guided tours through houses I’m sure I’ve seen before. It gazes out the window at the late-day light.

Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I think: Maybe it will be easy. I imagine sitting down, starting, and finishing a completed draft in a matter of days. It’s an extreme vision, perhaps. You could say it’s unlikely, that’s not how it works. And you’d probably be right. But I’m not here to talk about what’s likely or sound. I’m here to tell you about the things that move across the sky inside my mind, like so many clouds.

Sometimes, I think: I can’t. I have ruined myself by writing so many small pieces. I don’t know how to sustain a longer narrative. What if I simply don’t have what it takes?

I hear these thoughts and questions and recognize their genus and species: Fear.

It’s always an option to hang out there, you know. You can stay in fear, where it’s safe, where you get to hem and haw and doubt your abilities and worry about how it will go.

What is the fear, really? What is the worst thing that will happen if you sit down and really begin? That you won’t keep going, thus setting yourself up for disappointment and failure? That you will keep going and it will be hard? It will be hard.

But not harder than this place of waiting and wondering.

I often tell clients, you don’t decide to run a marathon and then win a marathon the next day. In fact, it will be many months, years even, of slow and steady training. Maybe you’ll decide it doesn’t actually matter to you to complete a marathon, and that it is ok to be a person who enjoys walking. Maybe you will learn how to sink into the pleasure of being alive without having to be more than you already are.

Or maybe you will say, no, damnit. I want this. And then you will have to build up to it. You will start small. You will probably seek out support and resources and some way of staying accountable. You might consult with some folks who’ve gone the whole distance. What do they wish they had known before that they know now? You will have to sift through all of that outside input to figure out what works for you — your body, your life, your schedule, your work and family obligations.

Writing a book — writing anything, really — is not so different.

You will not sit down and write a Pulitzer-prize winning book in one sitting. But you also won’t write any book, without sitting down, on a regular basis, and plugging away.

I think about writing a memoir about my Jewish journey. I also am not convinced it’s time yet. I have just signed up for a 15-month adult b’nai mitzvah class at my synagogue. A group of us will meet with our rabbi for two hours one Sunday a month to learn and study and prepare for this rite of passage that traditionally occurs at age 13. But, as my son said this morning after services, “You didn’t even know you were Jewish yet.” This is true, and I wonder if it’s one of the stories I have to tell.

It has occurred to me to use the 15-month period as a way of tracking my learning and perhaps starting to fill in some of the “chapters” of my unfolding identity. The fear is that it is too big of a topic. There is a difference between an autobiography and memoir, and I do not want to write the former.

There’s a subtle difference — so subtle as to be energetic — between lying to oneself (i.e. I’m not ready) and truly tuning into what time it is in one’s own life. My intuition is that it’s not time for the book yet, and this demands that I check in to see if I’m letting fear drive the bus.

I’ll be sitting with this in the months to come.

It is also perfectly ok and honorable to be a writer who doesn’t write a book. A book is not the holy grail of the writing life. There are many ways to be a writer. I’d say a very large percentage of folks I work with and who participate in my groups and retreats struggle with claiming the title of “writer.” When I say, a writer is a person who writes, I mean it. Not every writer is a professional writer, a published writer, a money-making writer, a household name. In fact, the vast majority of us are none of the above.

The house is quiet, except for Chalupa’s snoring. I look over at the books on the shelf. I have self-published three books. And yet I still ask: Will I write a book? Clearly, there is a kind of book I have not written. There might be several. Time will tell.

What I want, more than anything, is to feel connected to myself and to others. To find form for what lives in me and yearns for a worldly shape. Stories, for me, and yes, books, are one of those recognizable shapes — a way of literally holding, and offering to others, one’s lived experience — and also of letting it go.

Baby steps might not seem very sexy, but they are the only way to begin, just as practice and commitment and a hefty dose of self-compassion are good ways to keep going once you do.

Don’t wait to believe it. Take some action and let the faith follow.

Dance to the Edges of Your Longing

I have nothing important to say.
My car is getting inspected,
later I’m getting my eyebrows threaded
for the first time.

It’s Monday. The world spins madly on.

Starbucks. A woman at her laptop
who looks like a writer I know
but I don’t know if it’s her
so I don’t say anything.
A guy who might have been
Springsteen in the 70s.

Right now, someone’s learning to read,
A man is sobbing in his car, can’t let
his wife see how frightened he really is.
The appointment is this afternoon.
A woman is nursing her baby
while a toddler pulls on her pant leg.
The phone is ringing.

Where does poetry live
in the most ordinary of moments
against a backdrop of strip malls
and abandoned lots
and so much machinery
and day laborers who rose at dawn
and songs that remind you of lifetimes ago?

You already know how this will end,
with a parting that seems like the others,
nothing big, see you in a few hours.
But anything can happen
between here and there,
the first cry, the last breath.

You may think you have nothing
important to say, nothing important
to give — it’s a lie. Stop trying so hard.
Anyone lucky enough to love you
better know it.

And if they try to own you
like a pair of shoes
or use you like a gym membership
that starts out with gusto than fizzles
into the background of habitual excuses —
just no.

Just for today, dance yourself
to the edges of your longing.
See what you find there
and how it changes something in you
you thought you wouldn’t find

It never left you.